The rise of a jazz art world: jazz
enthusiasts, professional musicians,
and the modernist revolt

Have you ever heard the average devotee of classical music talk about jazz? A patronizing attitude of condescension hangs on him like a cigarbutt on the face of a politician. The fire is out and something smells. He speaks of classical music as “good” music and he means that all other music is bad. Jazz is the worst of all… Why the public seems to hear and enjoy jazz more than classical music is a horrible mystery. The majority of people are stupid, ignorant, and all wrong. And so the longhaired devotee throws his scores over his head and takes off with mental bumps of bewildered disapproval. He can't play or understand jazz but he knows it's terrible.

Marshall Stearns, “Bessie Versus Beethoven, Music and Rhythm 2-1941: 5

Marshall Stearns in 1941 sounded the all too familiar lament since the Jazz Age about the less than positive attitudes classical “longhairs” held about jazz. Stearns, along with a growing community of jazz enthusiasts in the 1930s, considered jazz a serious American art suffering from various forms of resistance and corruption. These enthusiasts viewed this music as under siege not only from the lack of recognition from classical longhairs, but also from the demands of the commercial music industry, the ignorance of popular audiences, and worse yet, the capitulation of swing musicians. Jazz enthusiasts were “righteous” aficionados who were avid supporters of what they called genuine or real jazz. Captivated by the hot jazz of the 1920s, these enthusiasts in the 1930s began a collective effort to revitalize and preserve what they viewed as an authentic jazz tradition.

The efforts of jazz enthusiasts, as well as their demand for genuine jazz, led to the beginning of a jazz art world. In this art world, enthusiasts enjoyed what they believed was a unique music genre distinct from commercial popular music whether swing or sweet. They were selfproclaimed “connoisseurs” who believed jazz deserved serious appreciation and patronage. In performances and recordings, enthusiasts patronized jazz whether performed by small ensembles, solo pianists, or the rare commercial big band that for enthusiasts truly incorporated real jazz. Enthusiasts also began writing about jazz. A new jazz criticism emerged


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The Rise of a Jazz Art World


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